Our Top 5 National Parks

In light of the current craziness and the fact that so many of us are spending time at home, we have decided that we could all use a virtual getaway, so we’ve created some various Top 5 lists of places that we have visited. Whether you use our suggestions as ideas for future trips or just want to sit back take in the photos, we hope you enjoy! Our favorite National Parks are the subject of the first Top 5 list.

#5: Acadia National Park, Maine

Coming in at #5 is Acadia National Park in Maine. Originally called Lafayette National Park and designated in 1919, the name was changed to Acadia in 1929, in honor of the former French colony that included what is now Maine. Acadia is not only home to beautiful views, 45 miles of trails (originally carriage roads designed and paid for by John D Rockefeller), and the scenic 27-mile Park Loop Road, it’s also very pet-friendly and home to some not-too-be-missed experiences. The first is Afternoon Tea at the Jordan Pond House, where visitors have been enjoying house-blended hot tea and popovers with fresh Maine strawberry jam and butter since the 1870s. If you opt to enjoy the service on the lawn, you are treated to gorgeous views of Jordan Pond and can bring your furry friend (Finley approved). Another one for your bucket list is watching sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point along the eastern coastline of the US and the first place in the country to see sunrise between October and March. You won’t be alone, but you’ll be treated to view unlike any other and an experience of a lifetime. 

#4- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Our virtual trip continues with #4 on our Top 5 National Parks list, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Officially designated as a national park in 1928, Bryce is most recognizable, not for canyons, but for its dramatic amphitheaters filled with red rock hoodoos. There are a number of trails throughout the park, including the mile-long, dog-friendly Sunset to Sunrise Trail that travels along the rim of the immense Bryce Amphitheater. The 18-mile long Scenic Drive travels the length of the park and provides stunning views at a number of overlooks (during the busy season, you are required to ride a shuttle through the park), including Natural Bridge and Agua Canyon. Although we haven’t visited in the summer, we would highly recommend visiting in the winter. Not only did we see just a handful of other visitors, frequently having viewpoints to ourselves; but we were also treated to some gorgeous snowy views.

#3: Glacier National Park, Montana

We are loving the sunny, summery views of the #3 park on our Top 5 National Parks list, Glacier National Park in Montana. We’ve been fortunate to travel throughout much of the country and Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited. Designated a national park in 1910, a number of hotels and chalets resembling Swiss architecture were soon constructed within the park by the Great Northern Railway, in an effort to help portray the area as “America’s Switzerland”. The spectacular Going to the Sun Road, perhaps the park’s most famous attraction, was constructed between 1921 and 1932 and is one of the most gorgeous drives in the country. Definitely one to add to your bucket list! Approximately 50 miles long, it spans the park from east to west and was one of the first projects within the National Park Service designed specifically with automobiles in mind. As you travel along the road, you’ll see waterfalls, sweeping glacial valleys, idyllic mountain lakes, and the vintage 1930s Red Jammer busses still used to shuttle visitors throughout the park. We only had a short time to visit but still managed to take almost 300 photos, which don’t even begin to capture the unbelievably breathtaking views. 

#2: White Sands National Park, New Mexico

One of the coolest places we’ve ever been, no words or pictures can possibly describe the amazing beauty and solitude that is the #2 park on our list, White Sands National Park in New Mexico (a designation so new that it was still a national monument when we visited in 2018). The world’s largest gypsum dune field, the desert of White Sands covers 275 square miles and we imagine feels like walking around on the moon (ignoring the whole atmosphere and gravity thing).

An experience like no other, you can walk across dune after dune and see nothing but white waves of sand and the occasional person off in the distance. Up close, the sand looks surprisingly like heavy, wet spring snow and we kept expecting to be cold; but even in February, the weather was beautiful, warm, and a bit windy. We enjoyed the views, but no one had as much fun as Finley. Of all the places we’ve traveled to and all of the adventures that Finley had, we have never seen him as excited to be somewhere as White Sands. He ran around squeaking and bounding for hours, and even after we settled down to watch the sunset, he still could hardly contain himself. If you visit White Sands, we suggest packing a meal to enjoy under one of the funky picnic shelters and plan to spend a few hours exploring the dunes- you won’t be able to wipe the smile from your face. Definitely be sure to stay for the sunset (pack a coat- the temperature dropped 20+ degrees while we were there), it was in a word, stunning. Our visit was one that we’ll remember forever, both for the experience and because we took what may be our most favorite Finley picture ever.

#1: Death Valley National Park, California

And the winner is… Death Valley National Park in California! Not at all what we imagined, we were surprised to find that Death Valley is so much more than just the lowest place in North America, home of the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth (134F on July 10, 1913), and hundreds of miles of desert basin- it is desolate stretches of road with vistas that rivaled some of the most popular parks, and mountains, so many more mountains than we ever imagined. Death Valley was declared a national monument in 1933 but didn’t earn national park status until 1994. There are so many not-to-be-missed sites, that you should plan to spend multiple days in the park- we didn’t even come close to seeing them all in the 36 hours we were there!

If you want striking backdrops and a road so empty that you can set your camera down in the middle of it and take a dozen shots, we suggest coming in via California State Route 178/Jubilee Pass Road. Once in the park, if you find you only have time for one stop, be sure it’s Badwater Basin. At 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in North America (and – it’s almost hard to believe – only 84 miles from the highest point in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney). As you stand in a huge basin with mountains on all sides, it’s difficult to comprehend that you are actually standing almost 300 feet below sea level. If you find yourself with more time, take a stroll along the 2.8-mile one-way, dog-friendly Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road, you’ll feel like you’ve ended up on the moon or Tatooine. Meant to be a scenic drive, it can also be hiked so long as you don’t mind stepping aside for the occasional car. And if you choose to spend the night, check out Stovepipe Wells Village. With traditional motel rooms that open to the parking lot- in our opinion, the best kind when traveling with a dog, a restaurant, saloon, gift shop, and general store, it’s a great place to post up for a day or a week. With tons of open land to walk the dog, a shop for those late-night candy cravings, and a roomy, clean, dog-friendly room, we have nothing but great things to say about our stay at Stovepipe Wells. Oh, and the views were pretty sweet too.

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